Lieberman, Axelrod on "Face the Nation"

Lieberman, Axelrod on "Face the Nation"

By Face the Nation - November 1, 2009

SCHIEFFER: And good morning again. Joining us from Chicago this morning, the White House senior adviser, David Axelrod.

Mr. Axelrod, the president insisted that the Afghan people have a run-off election. He convinced the Afghan president, Karzai to do that after charges that the general election was a fraud. He agreed but he refused to replace the officials who were in charge of the last one, and now the other candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, has quit.

I guess I would ask you first, is this going to have any impact on the timing of the president's decision on when to send those troops to Afghanistan?

AXELROD: Well, let me correct one thing that you said, Bob. What the president said was he wanted there to be an election that proceeded in the constitutional way. It did. In fact, many ballots were thrown out, a run-off was called.

Now Mr. Abdullah has exercised his rights as a candidate to withdraw. He has made a political decision to withdraw from this contest. And that doesn't markedly change the situation.

SCHIEFFER: Well, why doesn't it? I mean, the thing was a fraud. The man who was opposing him said, you know, he has got to replace these officials who allowed this to happen. They didn't allow it to happen. The United States I guess went along with that. Why doesn't it change the situation?

AXELROD: Well, I think, first of all, as I said, he made a political judgment. And I thought that his remarks today were rather moderate. He left open as to whether his supporters should participate in the process. And he is establishing himself as a leader of the opposition.

But every poll that had been taken there suggested that he was likely to be defeated anyway. So we are going to deal with the government that is there. And obviously there are issues we need to discuss, such as reducing the high level of corruption. These are issues we'll take up with President Karzai. SCHIEFFER: Is there any word, Mr. Axelrod, on when we can expect the president to make this decision on whether or not he's going to put more troops in there?

AXELROD: Well, Bob, I expect the president will make a decision within weeks. As you know, he has gone through a very rigorous process because the goal here is not just to make an arithmetic judgment about the number of troops, but to make sure that we have the right strategy to reach our goal.

And our goal is to protect the American people from al Qaeda. That's why we're in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda launched on us from Afghanistan. They've been driven to the mountains of Pakistan. We don't want them to return to Afghanistan and make Afghanistan a base again. And that's what this is about.

And the question is, what is the most effective strategy moving forward in the context of Pakistan, our troop strength around the world? These are the decisions the commander-in-chief has to make. And he is going through a methodical process, met with the Joint Chiefs on Friday had a good discussion with them.

SCHIEFFER: OK. But on timing, you're saying in a matter of weeks. Let me ask you...

AXELROD: Yes, I...


SCHIEFFER: ... Mr. Axelrod, last week when casualties in Afghanistan hit a new high, President Obama went to Dover Air Force Base to take part in a ceremony honoring the return of some of those who had been killed there. Well, this morning on FOX News, Rush Limbaugh had this to say about that.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, HOST, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW": It was a photo op. It was a photo op precisely because he's having big-time trouble on this whole Afghanistan dithering situation. He found one family that would allow photos to be taken. None of the others did.

And of course when you have a sycophantic media following you around, able to promote and amplify whatever you want, then he can create the impression that he has all of this great concern.


SCHIEFFER: So what's your reaction to that?

AXELROD: My reaction is that I think that the president of the United States went to Dover to represent the American people and pay his respects to the families who had made so much of a sacrifice, to those brave service people who made the ultimate sacrifice.

It was the appropriate thing to do. And I think most Americans appreciate that.

SCHIEFFER: On this broadcast back in March, the White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said this about Rush Limbaugh. He said, "He is the voice, the intellectual force and the energy behind the Republican Party." Do you believe that what he said today -- and we'll have some more quotes from him here -- represents what the Republican -Party believes?

AXELROD: I don't know. That's for the Republican Party to decide. I think we've seen an interesting development over this weekend in a special election in upstate New York in a congressional district. The Republican candidate withdrew because of the strong third-party movement behind a very right wing conservative. And certainly Mr. Limbaugh and others were behind that.

And I think it sends a clear message to moderates within that party that there's no room at the inn for them. That's why you see Republican identification in polls at a historic low. So that may be where the energy is in the Republican Party. But it's certainly not a view on which you can build a majority party.

SCHIEFFER: One of the things he said today was that the president is narcissistic, immature, inexperienced, and in over his head. Reaction?

AXELROD: Well, I think it's a surreal day when you're getting lectures on humility from Rush Limbaugh. An I'm not going to respond to that. The fact is that he is an entertainer. The president has to run the country. He's the commander-in-chief. He has huge responsibilities. I think he does them thoughtfully. He does them well. And they're difficult problems. We walked into a difficult situation. I think he's handling it very, very well. And most people believe that. We'll let Mr. Limbaugh foment, but I think the American people are well-served and believe they're well-served.

SCHIEFFER: I want to go to other things, but let me just ask you one final question. Last week your man Robert Gibbs met with the folks at FOX News, declared a truce in this war you've been having with them. Was the truce broken this morning?

AXELROD: Look, I'm not -- first of all let me dispel something. We're not at war with anyone. We're at war only with people who represent mistruths as truth. And that's true of any network whether it's FOX, CBS, or any other network. When errors of fact are stated or when opinion is offered as fact, we will challenge that. And that is -- that will be our policy going forward. And the American people deserve that. And we have to do that for the sake of the administration.

But we're not at war with anyone. And certainly Rush -- nobody -- there's no surprise that Rush Limbaugh espouses the views that he espouses. He does it every day on radio. He's marketing the outrageous. And he does very well with it. But as I said he's an entertainer. We've got bigger responsibilities. We're going to discharge those responsibilities.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you a little bit about the whole swine flu thing. Has the government done enough to prepare this country for a swine flu epidemic? Is there a vaccine shortage?


AXELROD: Well, let me say when the first intonations of this epidemic came to the fore in the spring, the president alerted the country and mobilized the government and the secretary of health and human services and the secretary of homeland security have both done, I think, an excellent job along with the CDC. We were told by the manufacturers of the vaccine -- and we started that process very quickly -- we were told by the manufacturers that they would have 40,000 doses ready by last week. We have 28 -- I'm sorry 40 million doses. We had 28 million as of last week. It's growing every day. We expect to get 10 million this week. And we're catching up quickly.

But we did represent to the public what we were told by the manufacturers. That turned out not to be the case. I think on the whole, however, we've done a very good job in working with local authorities to deal with what is a very serious situation.

SCHIEFFER: Well what do you do to correct this kind of thing? You're told one thing. You'd have so much. You didn't. These are the kinds of things we heard after Katrina during a previous administration. Are you taking steps to correct that?

AXELROD: Let's be clear. We're going to be caught up within a week. And I think we've been very, very aggressive on this situation. For the first time ever, people can go on a Web site and find out where to get the vaccine they need. They can diagnose their symptoms on the Web site. This is taking some pressure off of public health authorities.

AXELROD: We've gotten Tamiflu all over the country to deal with those who contract this, particularly the young.

This is a serious, serious epidemic, one of the most serious we've faced in a long time. And I think if you measure our performance against the performance of past administrations in dealing with a situation like this, we come out very well.

But the important thing isn't how we measure up. The important thing is how we deal with this problem moving forward. And we will have all the vaccine we need in very short order. And people should have some confidence about that.

SCHIEFFER: I have to ask you a little bit about health care. Leader Reid in the Senate said this week that he's going to to bring a bill to the floor that does include the public option. At this point it does not appear that he has the votes to get a public option passed. If he can't, will the president be willing to sign a health care reform bill that does not include the public option?

AXELROD: Bob, I'm not going to deal with that. I think both the House and the Senate are going to move forward on bills that likely it will have a public option. The president believes the public option is is valuable to create competition with the -- within the insurance industry, in this -- among this group of people who don't have insurance today, it will reduce costs and it will be a positive thing.

So he is eager for that to be in the bill. I think that some version of it will be in the bill.

SCHIEFFER: All right. David Axelrod, we thank you for coming to see us this morning. Hope to...


AXELROD: Good to be with you, Bob, thanks.

SCHIEFFER: We'll be back in one minute with Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. He's a Democrat -- or an "independent Democrat." And he may have some different ideas about all of this.


SCHIEFFER: With us now, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

You just heard the White House top adviser on such things, saying that it is likely that both the House and the Senate will finally come up with a -- some kind of a health care bill that has some sort of public option in it. What's your take?

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I hope not. In other words, I'm all for health care reform. We have a system that needs fixing. But we've got some more urgent problems than that.

And the first most urgent is to fix our economy, to get it creating jobs again. And I think that a public option will actually hurt the economic recovery and our long-term fiscal situation because it will end up causing the government to raise taxes.

It will probably raise premiums or it will put us further into debt. You know, the public option came out of nowhere. If you look at at last year's presidential campaign, Bob, no mention of it. The goal has always been two goals. One is make health insurance more affordable and, two, extend it to people who don't have it now.

The public option, I think, was raised in the last year by people who really want to have a government-controlled health insurance system. That's their right. I think they're wrong. But it's not necessary, as President Obama has said over and over again, to achieve the goals that he has. So I hope it's not in there at the end.

SCHIEFFER: Well, you caught the attention of a lot of people last week when you said that, yes, you might vote to allow the bill to come to the Senate floor with the public option in it. But that you might join the Republicans in filibustering it, if it came to that, to keep it from including a public option in the final version. Is that accurate?

LIEBERMAN: Yes. Yes, I'm not going to filibuster to stop the debate on health care reform from beginning because I want to have that debate. I want to have health care reform. I want to be able to say, yes, there are so many good things we can do to make health insurance more affordable and to extend it to people who don't have it now.

But I feel so strongly about the creation of another government health insurance entitlement, the government going into the health insurance business, I think it's such a mistake that I would use the power I have as a single senator to stop a final vote.

SCHIEFFER: But wouldn't that mean that you might wind up with nothing instead of something?

LIEBERMAN: Yes, but I'd say to the people who are all of a sudden making the public option, a government health insurance company, the litmus test here, they're stopping us from getting something done. There is a -- this is classic Washington today, Bob.

LIEBERMAN: There is broad bipartisan support for health care delivery reforms, for pushing the insurance companies, for instance, to give insurance to people who have pre-existing illness. No cap on lifetime benefits, for extending health insurance to people that don't have it. All of a sudden if you're not for this government health insurance company, you're against health care reform. I'd say to them, don't stop us from getting something important and good done for the American people.

SCHIEFFER: But is what you're also saying is that nothing is better than a government health insurance or a health insurance reform that includes a public option? Nothing is better than that?

LIEBERMAN: Well, the truth is that nothing is better than that because I think we ought to follow, if I may, the doctors' oath here in Congress as we deal with health care reform. Do no harm. And I'm afraid -- listen, amazingly nobody has talked about it. The Congressional Budget Office said on Thursday when the House Democrats put out their health care reform plan with a public option in it that the public plan would end up charging higher premiums than the average premiums charged by the commercial health insurance companies.

Now, why would we want to do that? Why would we -- the Congressional Budget Office has also said if the government creates a public plan, the public is going to be on the line. When it runs a deficit, as it surely will, the public, the tax payers, will have to pay for it.

SCHIEFFER: I'm going to ask you this question because I want to give you a chance to respond to it. Some of your critics say that the reason that you are so dead set against the public option is because there are so many insurance companies headquartered in your home state in Connecticut and they've been some of your biggest supporters. What have they given you this year, $400,000? Something like that? Has that had anything to do with your position on the public option?

LIEBERMAN: No. I wish people would come out and debate me on the public option instead of questioning my motives. If they look at the record, I have never hesitated to get tough on insurance companies when I thought they were wrong. When I was attorney general of Connecticut, I filed an antitrust action against the Connecticut insurance companies.

A few years ago when there was a patient bill of rights in the Senate which the insurance companies opposed, I supported it. Right now, I've said that I will support the removal of the antitrust exemption that insurance companies have. That's not the reason.

But I will say this. This recommendation of a public option, a government health insurance company, takes our government down a road that we've never gone down before.

In other words, we believe in a market economy. It's what's created the great American middle class. But it doesn't have a conscience. When it behaves badly, we regulate it, companies. We sue them. I've been angry at oil companies. I never had the idea that the government should go into the oil business to make oil companies behave better. I think this would be a terrible mistake.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you quickly about Afghanistan. You are one of those who say we need to send 40,000 troops now because that's what General McChrystal has told the president that we need. And yet, we see this mess that's developed now where now they are not going to have the run-off election. Or they'll have the run-off election but even the person who is in the run-off says it's so fraudulent and it's so corrupt, there's no use to even have it. What have we gotten ourselves hooked up to here with this Karzai government?

LIEBERMAN: Yes, we really got to keep our eye on the ball here. And David Axelrod said it well in the previous interview. We're in Afghanistan to stop the Taliban and al Qaeda from coming back into control there because if they do, it will be a base from which they we can attack us again as they did on 9/11. It will destabilize Pakistan and the whole region. Everyone knows the Karzai government can be improved, but, look, Hamid Karzai is going to be the next president of Afghanistan. He's played this according to the constitution and the rules of law in Afghanistan. He got 48 percent of the vote, even after the fraudulent votes were eliminated.

I think it's time for us to stop beating up on President Karzai and start building up President Karzai and his government to be the government we need. Because they're not the enemy. The enemy is the Taliban. Our troops need reinforcements. General McChrystal has said that. We lost more American soldiers in the last month than any month previously in the year. It's time to send help.

SCHIEFFER: I need to ask you about Rush Limbaugh because, after all, as an independent Democrat, you supported John McCain last time out. What about these remarks that Rush Limbaugh made this morning?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I just totally disagree with him. I mean, on the question of President Obama going to Dover to be there to honor the American heroes whose bodies were returning, I think he was there as commander in chief for all Americans. And I don't fault him or question his motives at all. I was proud that my president was there.

SCHIEFFER: Joe Lieberman, always a pleasure.

LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Bob.

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